THE GAME by Laurie R. King

What a pleasure to discover a whole new genre of fiction, even though the rest of the world has seemingly known about it for years.

Meet Mary Russell, the fictional wife of the equally fictional Sherlock Holmes.

Miss Russell has to be one of the most charming derring-do heroines a reader could hope to meet. Young, short-sighted and a feminist long before her time, in “The Game” Mary and her husband set off for India on the trail of… ?

Well, who else but Kim ?

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, naturally.

This delicious detective novel cleverly weaves the lives of two fictional greats together, with just enough literary detail that occasionally you catch yourself wondering “What if..” and “Could they really…”

Mary is the driving force in the novel, and is a hugely attractive heroine, putting up with all the cloak-and-dagger-y stuff that life with Sherlock Holmes (and Kim) demands.

“The Game” is her story, her adventure,  and her good-natured sense of humour drives the exciting plot along, though her love, respect and trust in her husband are clearly the mainstay of her life.  To see the great Sherlock Holmes in love with a charming young woman is to see one of fiction’s greats through a different lens.

India of the early 1920s is brilliantly brought to life, in all its avatars.  From colonial Delhi, to fly-blown villages and caravanserai, to the fabulous but troublesome kingdom of Khanpur, our intrepid heroine (and her husband) travel in search of Kim, who is by now middle-aged.

Of course he is.

Jimmy, the hugely rich but hugely bored Maharajah of Khanpur is brought to brilliant life, his intelligence, charm and sense of grievance making him a compelling, increasingly worrying figure.

This literary tour-de-force is charming, fun, and a genuine page-turner.  You really don’t want the book to end, whilst simultaneously longing to find out what happens.

 

“The Game” is published by Allison & Busby and costs £7.99.

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THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB by Alexander McCall Smith

The eleventh novel in the delightful No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, “The Double Comfort Safari Club” takes the reader on yet another series of sleuthing adventures across Botswana, with the charming, compassionate, and very traditionally built Precious Ramotswe.

With his elegant and affectionate prose, Alexander McCall Smith evokes the sights and sounds, the smells and the dust, and the very essence of Botswana. People are kind and considerate. They retain their traditional values – and their traditional build – and never lose sight of their village origins. There is a palpable sense of community and compassion in the world of Precious Ramotswe – values that have been lost in many other seemingly more developed parts of the world.

“The Double Comfort Safari Club” features two of the secondary characters whom we have met over the preceding books.

Poor Phuti Radiphuti – soon to marry the clever Grace Makutsi, or so we hope – meets with an accident.

And the woman we all love to hate, the scheming, shameless “arch-Jezebel” Violet Sephotho (who could only manage 50% in the final exams of the Botswana Secretarial Ciollege) shows her true colours. And she is certainly no shrinking Violet.

This novel also travels further afield, out of Gaborone, Botswana’s dusty, friendly, low-key capital city, and off to Maun and the Okavango Delta.

Alexander McCall Smith has done more to put Botswana on the literary map than anyone else, and his unerring ear for dialogue and his obvious love of Africa and her people, all combine to make this eleventh novel in the series every bit as charming as the earlier books.

“The Double Comfort Safari Club” is published by Little Brown and costs £12.99

CALL ME DAN by Anish Trivedi

This début novel of Mumbai-based Anish Trivedi is well-written, sharply-observed, and a great read.

The main character, Gautam, is a 30-year old lower middle-class young man, still living at home with his parents and sister.  Their life is frugal, traditional and distinctly joy-less. To his parents’ despair, Gautam doesn’t have what they term a real job, for he works in a call centre.

At work, in the world without time-zones, Gautam morphs into Dan.  Dan is witty,  rather the young man about town.  Dan drinks, which Gautam certainly wouldn’t.  Dan is cosmopolitan, a bit of a flirt.  Dan is, well, quite different from Gautam.

Anish Trivedi successfully brings both voices to life, steering his character(s) through surburban life, through the grind of work and daily commuting, through love’s ups and downs, through family dramas.

The author is a keen observer of social mores.  Seeing Dan interacting with Sondra, his foreign female colleague –  all blonde hair and throwaway lines – we watch as “Dan” wings it through water-cooler moments with her, making mental notes to himself to google the words he doesn’t understand, without ever missing a conversational beat.  His need to learn, to widen his horizons, to keep the veneer of sophistication in place is finely noted.

The prejudices in suburbia are finely chronicled by the author.  Michelle, Gautam’s long-suffering girlfriend, is a Christian and automatically perceived by his family to be unsuitable.  To be fair, Michelle’s family is equally unenthused by Gautam. Gautam’s best friend Naseer is a Muslim, much to his parent’s dismay.  Anish Trivedi sketches this world of petty prejudice and mistrust without ever falling into clichés, and we wince with discomfort at the un-PC world Gautam/Dan inhabits, while acknowledging just how horribly true to life it all is.

A fun read.  An affectionate portrayal of a hero trying to be more than the sum of his parts.  And an utterly delicious cameo of the station chai-wala.

CALL ME DAN was published in August 2010 by Penguin, and costs Rs 250.

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